Argus checked his pistol and waited for the hold to be pressurized. The indicator light went on. He deactivated the lock and opened the door.
The Federation shuttle sat on the holding pad.
Argus positioned himself near it. His senses were on full alert; prepared for anything. He raised his weapon in readiness and waited.
The shuttle door slid open. Two unarmed Federation soldiers appeared at the entrance. Avon was supported between them.
"Carefully. No sudden movements," he told them. "Come towards me slowly."
Argus backed up, keeping his pistol trained on them.
The soldiers did as directed.
"Put him here." He directed them to put Avon down just past the shuttle bay doors leading into the ship.
The soldiers put Avon down while Argus watched.
After the Federation shuttle left, Argus bent down to check Avon.
Just unconscious. Probably a sedative. Should wake up soon from the looks of it. Pulse is strong. What did Servalan do to you? What is she playing at? She said that she wouldn't harm you. I was a fool to trust her. But she did return you.
He shook Avon's shoulder. "Avon."
Avon opened his eyes. He felt groggy. The voice calling his name sounded familiar.
"Argus? You are alive. Servalan captured you too?"
"No, Avon. You're back on the Justice."
"What?" With Argus's help, Avon struggled up to a sitting position. "Servalan would never do that. She would never let me go." He looked at Argus suspiciously. "What did you do?"
Argus knew this was a crucial moment.
"You're right. Servalan and I came to an agreement."
Argus could see the anger in Avon's eyes and the look of accusation. There was no expression on his face. "An agreement?"
Are you like everyone else, Argus? Did you betray me?
Argus continued explaining, "But it's not what you think."
"Then what is it?" Avon asked.
"Servalan has been getting many disturbing reports about alien activity. She recognizes the Federation cannot fight this danger alone. Their troop strengths are still far from being what it was before so she wants an alliance. Until after this threat is over."
Avon stared at him. Argus could imagine that his mind was busy analyzing and calculating.
"That doesn't explain why she let me go," said Avon.
"I gave her a condition. That condition was you. She had to agree to stop hunting you if we helped in this fight."
"And after the fight?" asked Avon.
Argus hesitated. Avon might believe that Servalan would agree to the temporary alliance for mutual self-interest, but it would not be plausible for him to believe that she would continue to honour it after the aliens had been dealt with.
Argus didn't believe it either. He still suspected that Servalan had other hidden motives that he was not aware of.
He said, "After the fight? You know her much better than I do, Avon."
"Yes. I do. She will still be the same devious snake."
"But you'll be much stronger by then," said Argus.
Avon studied the other man.
"You had no right to make that agreement without talking it over with the rest of us," he told Argus.
"You're right. But I need to know if you'll agree."
Avon thought for a moment. "Not until you tell me why you made me part of the condition."
"We will not be as effective in this fight without you."
"That makes you no better than Servalan. You both want to use me."
Damn. That was definitely the wrong thing to say, thought Argus.
Until now, Argus had not thought about his own motivations. All he knew was that he had to save Avon.
Why am I doing this for you? Argus wasn't quite sure. He looked at Avon. There was still suspicion in the other man's eyes.
"I could not allow Servalan to take you again," he told Avon.
"You didn't want to lose your asset any more than Servalan did," said Avon bitterly.
No, Avon. I need you to trust me. Argus realized that the only way to get Avon to do that was with the truth. Or at least as much of it as he could tell him.
"I won't lie to you. That is what I did see you as at first. A valuable asset. But that changed after I found out what you did for Cally, for all of us. If it weren't for you, we would be either dead or puppets for Servalan. I would like us to be partners. Equal partners. I will leave this decision about the agreement with Servalan to you. If you decide not to take it, then we will tell her that we will no longer honour it. And we will fight her together." Why am I saying this?
"You would do that?" asked Avon.
"You would accept my decision?"
"Yes. I will not honour the agreement with Servalan unless you agree."
Avon looked at Argus. He did not trust people easily.
But perhaps we can work together. In a limited way.
"So your idea of an equal partnership is to do what I say?" asked Avon.
Argus realized that Avon had made his decision. He held out his hand to the other man. Argus said in a lighter tone. "Don't push your luck."
Avon stared at the offered hand for a moment then extended his own.
Don't make me regret this, thought Avon.
"I take it the ship has been repaired?" asked Avon as they left the hold together.
"Yes. As Zen likes to say, all systems are functioning within normal operating parameters."
Avon stopped suddenly.
"What's wrong?" asked Argus.
Avon walked around slowly. He flexed his knees a few times.
Avon bent down and felt the area around his right knee.
"It's gone," he said in an astonished, perplexed and uneasy tone.
"Not just that. The implant is gone," said Avon.
"Servalan," said Argus.
"Yes. Servalan." After what she had done to him on her command ship, Avon was even more suspicious of anything she did.
"For some reason, this makes me more nervous," said Argus. Yes. Definitely more nervous. But is this aimed at Avon or me? Or both? You're trying very hard to convince us that you're serious about our arrangements, Servalan. Too hard.
"Yes. She never does anything without an ulterior motive. A healthy dose of extreme paranoia would be in order when we talk to her."
"You want to do that now?" asked Argus.
"Oh yes. She'll be expecting us," said Avon with a calculating tone.
"Do you think that doing what she expects is a good way to start off this relationship?"
"She will think we're doing what she expects."
Avon's tone made him apprehensive. "And what will we be doing?" asked Argus.
"Just follow my lead," said Avon.
"Alright. Don't get used to it," said Argus.
"Servalan." Avon said her name with a cold distaste.
"Avon. I suppose it's too late to ask that we keep things civil?" said the woman on the main viewscreen.
"You call what you did to me as keeping things civil?"
"How observant of you," said Avon sarcastically. "Worthy of Vila."
"Comparing me to Vila. You are angry aren't you?" she remarked.
"On second thought, I would not insult Vila by comparing him to you."
"I had the surgeons remove the implant."
Avon said sarcastically, "You used to be less obvious, Servalan. Do you think that removing it makes any difference? You're the one who had it put there in the first place. And you had great pleasure in using it."
"I could have left it in place," said Servalan.
"Yes but then you wouldn't be able to convince us you're sincere about this alliance."
"Argus told you already? He didn't waste any time," she said.
"Yes and he also says he doesn’t trust you, which seems highly intelligent of him."
"Does he now?" Servalan shifted her gaze to Argus, who was standing next to Avon and hadn't said a word.
"I have left the decision up to Avon on whether he will agree to this alliance," Argus told her.
"That's very fair-minded of you, Commander," said Servalan.
Argus did not react to her deliberate attempt to provoke.
"It's Avon you have to convince, Servalan. I don't think he's very inclined to." Argus turned his head towards his companion and asked, "Are you, Avon?"
"I can find no reason to," replied Avon. His eyes had never left Servalan even during her exchange with Argus.
Servalan had a slightly puzzled look on her face. She looked at Argus and then at Avon.
You must be wondering what we're doing, thought Argus. And what I'm doing.
He almost laughed.
"Then why did you contact me?" asked Servalan.
"I will only agree to this alliance on my conditions," said Avon.
"And what do I get out of agreeing to these new conditions?" she asked.
"You need my help, Servalan. I do not need you. In fact, my quality of life would vastly improve if I personally disposed of you."
"You could never do that, Avon," said Servalan. There was silkiness in her voice.
"You underestimate my hatred, Servalan. Why don’t you come over to test your theory? For purely scientific purposes, of course."
Servalan smiled. "Very well, present your conditions and I will decide whether they are acceptable to me."
"Your original agreement was for an alliance between us. We will work together to fight the alien incursion. In addition, Argus demanded that you stop hunting me for the duration of this alliance."
"Yes. That is the original agreement."
"These are my additional requirements. The Federation will stop the use of Pylene-50 and the new techno-virus during this time. It does not facilitate resistance to the alien threat if your own people cannot fight them."
As Avon presented his conditions, at first Servalan was shocked. Then she laughed at his audacity.
"That's very clever, Avon. It's totally logical and has the added benefit of fostering rebel resistance. But I also have one additional condition. Argus said that the only permanent solution to prevent the invaders from returning is to reduce the gap between their technology and ours." Servalan said.
Avon had a feeling he was not going to like what Servalan was going to say next.
"I want you to help the Federation reduce that gap," she told him.
"Avon," Argus said in warning. Avon held up his hand to indicate for him to wait.
Avon said to her, "You have a lot of nerve. You're not seriously proposing that I help you increase the technological level of the Federation?"
"If you don't then what you, Argus and Sester did would be for nothing."
It was move and countermove; each one raising the stakes to achieve the most advantageous position the other would be willing to accept.
For a few moments there was silence then Avon said, "I will only help you with defensive capabilities. I will have approval over any project. And I must have full autonomy on those projects. That is the only way I will agree."
"Very well. I agree to your additional conditions. In return, for the duration of the alliance, I will suspend the spread of Pylene-50 and the techno-virus."
Servalan didn't think they needed to know that she had considered the value of these bio-weapons as limited at best; considering Avon already possessed the cure to both. It was only a matter of time before he would try to form another alliance to mass produce and distribute the antidotes.
"She is devious," said Argus.
"We'll have to be careful," said Avon.
"Agreed. Nicely done. But this arrangement with the projects. I don't like it."
"You don't have to like it," said Avon.
"For her to ask you to do this…"
"I can handle it."
"You're not going in alone." Argus was not about to let Servalan have access to Avon again without lots of protection; agreement or no agreement. He didn't believe that she would be able to resist the temptation.
"I don't plan to," said Avon. "I will be controlling the conditions. Everything I work on will be available to us. And it gives me access to some equipment for research purposes which would normally be very difficult to acquire."
Argus smiled wryly, "I should have known. Motives within motives. You both give me a headache."
"Well, at least it's possible to survive mine."
"Let's get the others back up."
"Before we do that, there is something we need to discuss."